June 25, 2004

Zanu PF Members of Parliament "in revolt"

In an unprecedented move, dozens of ruling Zanu PF Members of Parliament (MPs) walked out of parliament in protest against a bill that empowers police to detain corruption suspects for up to a month without trial. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MPs, however, remained in their seats as Zanu PF legislator Shuvai Mahofa led the walkout. The Zanu PF parliamentarians also stayed away on the next day. This effectively thwarted plans to bulldoze the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill through parliament. The proposed law has been referred back to the ministry of justice, legal and parliamentary affairs after it could not pass the first reading. The provisions of the proposed law were brought into effect in February by Mugabe, since he is allowed to bypass parliament and decree laws during emergencies. However, they have to be ratified or approved by parliament within six months.
The regulations allow the police to detain a suspect charged with economic crimes for seven days for investigation. They can also disqualify the courts from granting bail if they invoke the regulations at the first court appearance. This allows the police to detain suspects for another 21 days. An accused person can thus be detained for up to 28 days. The provisions currently in use through the presidential powers are due to lapse in August. The police would then have to resort to the old rules under which they can detain suspects for two days.

MDC MP Job Sikhala, who witnessed both the walkout and the stayaway by the Zanu PF MPs, said: "They have shot down their own bill. We did not even debate it because they did not allow it to reach the debating stage. This is the most bizarre incident since I came to parliament in 2000." Sikhala added: "Most of (them) are the key culprits in these economic crimes. They know that if the police enforce the law, they will be the main victims because they have externalised lots of money. "It's not like they are motivated by any desire for Zimbabwe to have good laws." Sikhala said the decision by MDC MPs to remain seated did not mean they supported the bill. Welshman Ncube, the MDC MP who chairs the parliamentary legal committee, has already declared the bill illegal and unconstitutional. (The Cape Times, South Africa)

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